The Summer That Changed My Life: Testimonies From Our Kansas Women

no place like home Alyssa: Overall, my time here has been absolutely wonderful and better than I could have ever expected or imagined! I have gotten to meet amazing women from all over the world who all have amazing dreams and passions. We all have come together to create a better life for the people, and women in particular, in our communities and countries. The discussions, ideas, and projects that we do together are so great! My favorite times so far have all been in Washington D.C. on the day when I finally got to meet the amazing 20 international women. Over those next few days,  I got to meet even more amazing international women at the SUSI conferences, explore D.C., and try new foods with all of my new sisters! So far, Lawrence has been great, and I am sure it will continue to be! All 25 of us get to attend classes every day that assist us with making sure we are well-equipped to go back to our communities and work on the adaptive challenge we have selected. My adaptive challenge includes working with the international students in my community to make their time in the U.S. is as satisfying as possible, so getting the opportunity to work with so many outstanding international women here is just perfect!  Throughout the past couple of weeks we have gotten many opportunities to meet various inspirational and empowering women from all walks of life who provide motivation for us to continue to fulfill our dreams, just as they have done.  I am so thankful and honored to have been selected for this program. I look forward to future opportunities to share my life-changing experiences with you all! Ally: A Thank You to This Program and the Lawrence Community My experiences at the Kansas Women’s Leadership Institute have been incredible and life-changing. I am so blessed by the women in the program, our facilitators and the Kansas community. To share a part of myself and find that I have things in common with women from all walks of faith, from every part of the world makes my identity as a global citizen even more clear. I have sisters in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pieces of my heart will forever live in India and Mongolia. My family reaches as far as Morocco and Zambia. But as my dedication to the world as a whole has become stronger, I feel an even deeper connection to my Kansas roots. I have been able to share some of my favorite things about my home to these women. Sunrises over campus, thunderstorms, hospitality and a help-your-neighbor attitudeare just a few of the things that make Kansas so special to me. They are a part of my identity. I am so thankful to all those in the community who have taken time out of their lives to recognize the importance of extending a welcome to these incredible women. Believe me when I say that THEY ARE the future of our world. By taking time to hear new perspectives we not only forge a bond, but we enrich our own lives, and the community as a whole. Thank you, from the depths of my heart, to Lawrence and the KU community. You have treated my sisters and me with such generosity and warmth. Because of you, I have built relationships that span the globe and have found a renewed dedication to give back to this community. Thank you for everything. BreShawna: Being a part of this program has been incredible and has had a huge impact on my life. I am grateful and honored to be a part of the Kansas Women’s Leadership Institute, especially as one of the first participants from Kansas to be allowed this opportunity. To start, everything I knew about leadership had to be rewritten. My classical view of a leader and all the experience I gained striving to be a “servant leader”, missed the true point of leadership. Primarily that leadership is not about an individual, but the action of intervening to tackle the difficult challenges to help the entire organization. It changes the perception of leadership away from the glamorous connotation to show that leadership is a process that is uncomfortable, risky, and offers no precedent on the steps that need to be taken. However, it is the only path for impactful change. Then there is the role that the international women play. I have always enjoyed engaging in discussions that highlight the culture differences between people, but that bring forth the similarities that bond them in the process. What surprised me though was how quickly we began to discuss real issues in a way where people were honest, interested, and open to hearing different perspectives. The program focuses on empowering women, yet I did not believe that the problems faced in Kansas would be in anyway similar to those faced in Afghanistan, Pakistan or any of the other 5 countries represented in our program. I have learned otherwise. Each country has unique circumstances and is in a different stage of progress to be sure, yet the core problems we face are identical. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the amazing women in this program. They are women who will change the world and continue to inspire me every day Miranda: The KWLI experience has been so surreal for me! Every minute of every hour of every day is full of priceless memories and friends that will last for a lifetime.  Friends (or sisters as we often refer to one another) that have defined not only who I am but most importantly who I want to be. I’m forever grateful for this opportunity; it’s not every day that you can capture the smile of 7 countries in one photo. We have no borders or boundaries, just love for one another. These women have quickly become a large part of my life and their family has become mine.  Until this journey, I honestly never thought that I’d shared any interests with women from Pakistan or Zambia (just to name a few) but we share more than interests; we share clothes, make up, shoes, jewelry, stories, passions, goals, tears, trust, integrity, and a bond that could never be broken because we’re all the same. Each and every one of them has played a significant role in the way I will live my life for the future. They’ve taught me culture, diversity, and religion but more than any one of these words could explain, they’ve taught me about myself.  They’ve helped me discover a part of me and my heart that I didn’t know existed. They’ve awakened my soul and created a yearning for knowledge within me. I cried when my adventure began. I cried because I was afraid to leave all that I had ever known; my family, my dogs, and my friends, even if only for 6 weeks. Now as our journey comes to a close, I cry because 6 weeks wasn’t nearly long enough to define the best days of my life. These women are my family. Brittany: When Passion and Purpose Come Together, There is No Stopping the Momentum Prior to KWLI it’s easy to say I was lost. Whole-heartedly? No, but I lacked purpose. I knew I was creative. I knew I had engaged in the process of leadership several times and I knew I loved to travel and explore the diversity of this world. None of this, however, had built up my confidence, mission, or purpose. Through the KWLI experience I am whole-heartedly found. Having to troubleshoot daily teaches one a lot about themselves. Having the opportunity to meet women with completely different experiences and needing to build a reputation for yourself gives you a major sense of freedom. My KWLI sisters have helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses and they have never judged. They have fostered the perfect environment in which I can stumble, succeed, fail, and thrive. All of this has built a confidence and purpose within me that I never knew could exist. Lost but now found. With this new confidence and purpose I have developed my dream. Believing in yourself is half the battle and I know the other half has already been tacked with the support and energy of my international family. I can promise my actions in the future will involve global collaborations as the bonds and dreams I share with my sisters is unexplainable. Thank you to the donors, instructors, supporters, and dreamers of KWLI. Thank you for helping me find the greatest me. I am determined to make a difference in the world and I can promise you I will. I would love to share my plan with you on our presentation days. June 29th and 30th. All are welcome! None of this, however, would be possible without you! To constantly learning, thriving, inspiring, and changing the world! Best wishes!

Intangible Thoughts: From India to the U.S.

14612712623_09272edd75_o“I call them at 11am. It is 7:30 pm when they answer it, and it strikes me that I am far away from my family and my home back in India.” – says Arpita Mitra (New Delhi), one of the participants representing the South Asian country, along with Zainab Samad (Hyderabad) and Nivetha Chockalingam (Chennai) at the Study of the US Institute program on Women’s Leadership with the University of Kansas. India holds a unique cultural perspective in world relations. It is all the more significant to represent the land of diversity at an international platform for deliberating over Women’s leadership. The Indian ambassadors hold immense excitement and a responsibility to showcase this hub of diversity. Says Zainab – “As a candidate selected from my country, and probably the only one from my town – I’m absolutely privileged and honoured to be a part of this intensive program centred around the belief that as women we’re all passionate about Women’s Leadership. My takeaways from the program are not only the theoretical studies done on the topic but the practicality of it and the range of approaches that 24 women have adopted to implement these tools in a specific way suitable to our respective societies.” To this, Arpita adds – “Since a very young age, I had prepared myself to believe that I was special. I found my passion in not just excelling in academics and the creative arts, but wanting to excel as a person, oriented towards something I could relate to as ‘extraordinary’! Being extraordinary was tough nonetheless; I was a simple girl from a humble background, who only could dream exceptionally high. However never did I anticipate that the opportunity to live those dreams would occur so soon. I almost felt unprepared. Representing India at one of the finest Women’s Leadership Institute in the United States of America ironically made me hesitant about trusting the strengths and qualifications for which I got acknowledged. ‘Was I good enough for this?’ The process of engaging in acts of leadership probably began from that moment onwards – a trigger that compelled me to look deeper into understanding the person I was then and the person ‘I believed myself to be”. For Nivetha, the Program is much more than a six-week engagement. “This program has helped me in developing and honing my skills. Right from the first stage of preparing my Statement of Purpose, up to this very moment, I still find it hard to believe on a certain level, that I am actually a part of this program. Being in a group full of international women from seven different countries and various cultural and social backgrounds, and being able to mutually share and receive is simple phenomenal”, says Nivetha. We’re almost in the middle of the Program timeline and the Indian participants have come to absorb, reflect, and get intrigued by the very same things they previously would have taken for granted. Zainab thinks that the past three weeks have been enriching amidst the guidance of amazing teachers, staff and students at the University of Kansas. It has given her a new lens to look beyond her immediate thoughts. Collaborating with women from seven different countries has brought her to realize that in one way or the other women inclined towards public service are all dealing with some of the same issues of discrimination and gender inequality that women have always experienced.. Arpita provides yet another perspective – “The experience so far has been an eye opener, for it makes me believe that simplicity may be the finest manifestation of being extraordinary. The Faculty and the peer group develop confidence – they help me become a better person each day, and instill the belief that I can continue to become better, and that my contribution to the world can increase” For Nivetha, the past few weeks were an opportunity to be able to meet many powerful women from various fields who helped motivate herself even more. “Be it the way the classes are handled, or the way that we all get along with each other, every aspect of this program is enriching. I now have better clarity on things which were foggy, am more open to new and different ideas, and am also able to see the overall progress I have made so far during the course of this program. I am energized by the passion every person in our group has, and each of their stories,” she says. But what does it mean to leave back one’s family to experience an opportunity like this? What does it mean to live ‘an American life’? Zainab states – “It is a very popular idiom we use all over the world. I’ve watched “the American Life” on the television, on shows in movies, heard of it from friend, but little did I ever think or imagine that I’d be experiencing it myself one day, that I’d finally be here in the United States of America all by myself!” Arpita talks about exploring new family members. “Travelling for almost 24 hours to a country I had only learned about through textbooks and the media, I realize I have discovered my second home. It is unbelievable for an introverted person like me to interact and form relationships easily. The KWLI participants have not become my close friends—I have received 24 powerful sources of inspiration. Despite coming from seven different countries, they often share my idealistic aspirations and it is amazing to see how our thoughts harmonize and our presence create a mesmerizing synthesis,” she comments. Nivetha shares a similar thought – “It is not very often that you get to connect with people who understand your stories and/or passions as well as you do. But it was made possible during this program by getting to choose our mentors. I am now more confident about myself, and that is mainly because I have been able to learn so much in this process.” The participants are looking forward to the remaining weeks of excitement and adventure here at the United States – to many more opportunities for intellectual stimulation, articulation and self reflection.

How I Met Myself

Enjoy this blog written by 2013 alumni Zoya from Pakistan. 1044937_10151518990977966_2062454896_n “Hurrah! I am selected for SUSI,” I shouted aloud just after receiving the selection call from the US Embassy of Pakistan. And from that very moment, I started to believe whole heartily that yes, there is nothing impossible. As I was doubtful about myself but still tried my luck and applied for it then also got selected. This was a great achievement for me, therefore, I was extremely happy and also excited to travel all alone for the first time in my life. After reaching there, I felt little bit scared and nervous in all new environment and people. It was so different from mine. But with each passing day, I realized, instead of so many differences, we all were same somehow including the staff and fellows, which were from the six different countries. We shared same emotions and feelings in the end. Sometimes, we did have different opinions and ideas, but that’s the beauty of diversity. Because after having a bundle of ideas in the classroom, it was easy to see one thing in different colours. Through it, one can learn that each person can have their own view, which could be right for her/ him, it all depends on perspectives. If the new batch of this year’s participants hold on to this simple theory then their journey will be more smooth and productive, just as mine has been. Gradually, the magic of this journey started to work on me, I was changing. It made me feel good about myself and urged me to place emphasis on my strengths, not weaknesses. It was a big change for a girl like me, who had always doubted her qualities and focused on flaws. But I loved this change in me. That’s why I surrendered and made myself flexible for upcoming changes. This proved good for me as I felt many other changes in myself. No doubt, one does have to make compromises to achieve the desirable result. So I too did make some tiny compromises, like learning to tackle the very busy routine and the food! 😉 But, it was something worth compromising for. 970263_10151518957792966_894051710_n Then, at the end of journey, my biggest realization: I realized that in fact I had never changed at all. Because of the efforts of our dear professors, I got to succeed, to discover my own self, and met with an all new Zoya, who was already there but hidden deep inside me, perhaps due to fears of opposition or society. But this time, she was more strong, confident and could raise her voice for herself and others. Therefore, this journey was memorable for me because in this, I found myself. And this is something valuable because to practice effective leadership, one should have the ability to understand her/his own self first to deal with issues in a specific way. Hence, I would say to the new women to expect a journey where their differences will be appreciated, their strengths will be polished and where there will be some ups n downs to shape and stable their personalities. So fasten your seat belt and let the magic of SUSI to work on you. Good luck! 🙂

Mongolian Women Make Progress

Updates on the 2013 Mongolian Women’s Project for Change:

We have finished the first phase of our project which was running trainings, organizing movie- talks and creating documentary film “Women’s portrayal in Mongolian media”. The first phase overall was successful and challenging, we think we identified our stakeholders and allies correctly. The next thing we are going to do is involve young women who are passionate about this in the coming project “A Beautiful Body” where we shoot photos with different body shapes and ages. It aims to open the blind eyes of people that people are unique and beautiful the way they are, give confidence and understanding beauty is not measured only by being young, thin, sexy etc and we are going to run exhibition for 7-10 days and organize different events, for example one day is screening of the movie Miss Representation, next day is perform one or two monologues of Eve Ensler “A Beautiful Body” and “Vagina Monologues”, invite journalists, press conference and media creators, film studios, marketing agencies, etc.  The most rewarding part of the project is the feedback from young women, they do agree that they never saw, perceived from the angle that we tried them to see. Most of them do agree that some actions need to be done to create awareness of both women and men, girls and boys to perceive critically the information, media that surround them. Also, we have over 8,600 views of our short documentary film on YouTube!

Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19V-RrTa2LY

Busy April

Updates from Summer 2013 alumni, Houria: I had one month training at high school teaching baccalaureate students English. That was fun. Whenever I meet my students in the streets, they love to come and say Hi. Spring Leadership Camp, I have to say it is not an easy thing but rewarding. I was one of the organizers and speaker as well. It was a 6 days camp. I talked about leadership, a little bit about social entrepreneurship and movie selection and discussion. hotel Young Social Entrepreneurs Program with the US Embassy. I said that I was selected to be part of the program; I am mentoring women cooperatives and association in the region of Ouarzazate. On April 17-20 we had a training at the US Embassy about business plan, marketing opportunities for cooperatives and we visited the ministry of handcrafts where we learn about the different opportunities such as exhibitions, loans and mentoring for cooperatives. On April 17, it was my birthday; the woman from the Embassy organized a little party for me. It was on a boat restaurant, we had dinner and after that, they brought the cake and candles that was awesome. On April 26-27 I was one of the organizers of the US Embassy TechCamp Caravan in Ouarzazate. It was one of the most successful caravans; the deputy of public affairs said that. My friends and I applied for the 2014 Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund. The main goal of our project is to promote democratic citizenship and civic engagement among youth and support their political participation to push forward their voices in the society and to take leading roles and responsibilities as citizens and agents for equity, justice and social change. I was able to publish my article on Morocco World News which is a big deal for me. Here is the link of my article if you would love to take a look on it: http://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2014/05/129936/the-u-s-embassy-rabat-techcamp-caravan-takes-place-in-ouarzazate/ Today I will go to the dressmaker for my graduation dress measurements. I am very excited about graduation.

It’s your time to shine

Words from Summer 2013 Alumni, Rimsha. Topeka First of all, congratulations for making it to the Women’s Leadership Program at the Women’s Leadership Institute at Kansas University. The six weeks that follow will change your life for the best and I am not exaggerating when I say this. It’s nothing short of a movie where you are the star and the experiences you will have in the beautiful heartland. These six weeks will help you appreciate the beauty of diversity and different opinions. You will learn the importance of time and relationships. You will learn to cope with difficult situations without breaking under pressure. You will learn about the beauty of opportunity.  You will learn the practice of adaptive leadership. But most importantly, you will discover yourself. It’s going to be nothing short of a rollercoaster ride, but you must hang in there and be strong. You are getting an opportunity to break free and overcome your fears, embrace the opportunity. You will get a chance to recolor your world with new realities, take it. One thing you should be prepared for at the Women’s Leadership Institute is an atypical environment. What’s exciting about the class room environment is that it’s nothing like an ordinary class room. It’s more of a boardroom meeting where each of you is a stakeholder, and this boardroom meeting will be one of the most crucial learning curves for you. You’ll learn how to work together in a team and resolve conflicts while keeping yourself oriented to the purpose. You will travel across the state of Kansas to learn about the culture and heritage of the countryside. You’ll get to experience the world’s best fireworks on Fourth of July. You’ll get to meet successful women of their respective fields who will mentor you and empower you. You’ll get to spend a culturally rich weekend with an American host family. I, surely had the most amazing discussions on women rights and the best home-cooked grilled salmon ever with my host family, and I’m sure so will you. It would be impossible for me to pick one favorite moment from those six weeks for me. From Zip lining, self-defense, jazzercise, to shopping at Oak Park Mall, eating at the Cheesecake Factory, to cooking and cleaning to the tune of ‘Just give me a reason’, the trip to the NCC, the liberty bell, the state capitol, the visit to the union station and The State Capitol and I can totally go on and on about it, because that’s just how memorable it gets. Remember, there are no wrong answers at the Women’s Leadership Institute. Leave behind your fears and gear up to have six weeks that will help you discover who you are and give you the liberty to realize your dreams and the courage to make them come true. You’ll make lasting friendships and no matter what the distance, you will always be connected by that special bond of love and warmth. Before you know it, you would be bidding farewell to your amazing sisters at WLI. So cherish each moment. You’re the star of this movie so don’t be afraid to shine bright!

Alumni (wi’12) Climbs Kilimanjaro

KWLI women climbing to new heights, tackling tough challenges! Amal (KWLI alumni wi’12) just completed a 9-day hike to Kilimanjaro. Amazing!! We are so proud of you Amal! Read more here. DSC02383
“This trip has taught me two basic things, one is patience and the other is consistency in action. The trip was tough trip and very physically demanding. I had to be persistent and patient to reach the top.”   DSC02494  “That KU experience and the time I spent in the States among different types of women had a great influence on myself and the way I look at life at some aspects, especially teamwork challenges and adaptation to a whole new environment.”   DSC02488 “We were hiking for seven hours a day, everyday as we got closer to the summit. It got harder because of the change in altitude. In our final hike before reaching the summit, we hiked for 15 hours at a stretch. It was physically and mentally challenging,”  

DSC02471Amal is the first Bahraini woman to step foot in Antartica.

Meet our Kansas Participants

We are very excited for our five, excellent women from Kansas. Learn more about them below.

Brittany Bange

Brittany Bange

My name is Brittany Bange and I am a junior at Fort Hays State University studying graphic design and painting. In high school, at Colby, Kansas, I was lucky to have several leadership opportunities. I was National Honor Society President, Young Humanitarians Founder and President, Student Council Vice President, and C-Club Vice President. I graduated valedictorian of my class and realized, after it was all over, that my favorite thing about being a leader was the opportunity to be an example or inspiration. My leadership roles have not stopped in college and I have had the opportunity to travel abroad with Fort Hay’s leadership program. Along with my study abroad experience I have traveled to nine other countries outside of the US. I am eager to bring my travel experiences, my passion for people, and my hard work to KWLI. Ideally, I will be able to address our state’s foster care program and bring awareness to the human trafficking problem in our state. I plan on not stopping until I have made a difference in either of these areas. I am eager to build life long relationships through this program and to become the best leader I can be for our state. Thank you, KWLI, for the opportunity.


Miranda Benedict

Miranda BenedictMy name is Miranda Benedict and I was born, raised, and reside in Garden City, KS. I am currently a sophomore at Garden City Community College majoring in Business, with the intent to transfer and obtain my undergad in International Business. I am currently employed by the City of Garden City as an Administrative Assistant for the Garden City Regional Airport.
By participating in the KWLI, I would like to gain the resources and knowledge to empower the women in my community, as well as the young women in my family. I’m confident that this experience will enhance my academic and professional career in many ways!

Allyson Briggs

Ally BriggsI am a junior at the University of Kansas from Ottawa, Kansas. I am majoring in biochemistry. I am active in the KU Marching Band, Alternative Breaks program, Phi Delta Epsilon Pre-Medical Fraternity, and identify as a non-traditional student. I am particularly excited to learn from the experiences of other women participating in KWLI in order to more effectively face the problems challenging my own community. Specifically, I hope to learn more about medicine in rural areas as I continue to pursue a career in family medicine. I hope to gain the tools necessary to address the medical services available to women in Franklin County.


BreShawna Briggs

BreShawna BriggsI am excited to attend the KWLI! Originally from Wamego Kansas, I am currently attending the University of Kansas in Lawrence as a first-year student. I am pursuing degrees in East Asian Languages & Cultures and Accounting with a concentration in International Business. I also plans to minor in Applied Behavioral Science with a specialty in Organizational Behavior. Outside the classroom, I love being involved in my organizations for which I have the honor of serving in five leadership positions. I look forward to all the opportunities the KWLI offers. I am especially eager to further develop my leadership abilities in the hopes of improving my performance in leadership roles. Additionally, I am excited to have the opportunity to network with the international students that will also be attending.

Alyssa Reed

Alyssa ReedHello Everyone! My name is Alyssa Reed. I am from Hays, Kansas and am currently a sophomore at Fort Hays State University. I am majoring in Speech Language Pathology and minoring in Spanish. My goal from earning this major and minor is to work with people of other cultures and help them with accent modification. From participating in the Kansas Women’s Leadership Institute I would like to develop my leadership skills to be able to make a difference with people of other cultures, and in particular, women. This program will also give me international connections that will allow me to have relationships with people of all different cultures, ethnicities, traditions and religious backgrounds. In all, this program will give me skills to create a positive change in my community and around the world. I am really looking forward having a roommate from another country!

Now Accepting Applications

KWLI Application We are pleased to announce we are now accepting applications for our inaugural class of KWLI 2014 participants. You can turn in your application to your home university, or send in your applications to us as a .pdf or .doc attachment to kwli@ku.edu. You can also send it snail mail to: Jenny Memmott 1122 W. Campus Road Lawrence, KS 66045. Deadline for materials is November 8th, 2013. Apply today!